The Red Badge of Courage | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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The Red Badge of Courage | Chapter 11 | Summary



Henry realizes the sound of the battle is getting closer. He is pleased to see the fearful troops retreating and believes this justifies his own running away. Henry quickly becomes demoralized again when he sees a column of infantry pushing forward toward the battle; he feels these soldiers are "chosen beings" and that "he could never be like them." Henry wishes to change places with one of them, to engage in battle; he envisions himself leading the charge, "a blue, determined figure standing before a crimson and steel assault, getting calmly killed on a high place before the eyes of all. He thought of the magnificent pathos of his dead body."

Once again Henry romanticizes war, despite having experienced only one battle. Momentarily uplifted, Henry decides to join the fight; however, his doubts come quickly back, and he worries about what his comrades will say when he returns to his regiment. The fire goes out of him as he decides not to join this battle; he feels he will never be a hero, but a "mothlike quality" keeps him near the battle in order to watch it. Henry engages in a psychological battle, pitting his justifications for fleeing against the expectations of his fellow soldiers and the public.


The internal psychological battle continues in Henry as he vacillates between heroically entering battle and fleeing to save his live. The Homeric ideals of battle that Henry read about as a schoolboy return to the forefront of his thoughts, again emphasizing his youth, immaturity, and naiveté. Religious imagery elevates Henry's romantic notions of battle. The soldiers are "chosen," and like an avenging angel in blue, Henry imagines his own heroism and sacrifice. Yet, in reality, he is drawn only to watch the fighting from a safe distance, "mothlike," indicating a kind of spiritual death in his cowardice.

Henry engages in yet another psychological battle: he feels he is a seer for fleeing early in the battle and wishes for a loss on his side so he can join the others who fled. He desires a "moral vindication" of his actions, but then counters his argument that the troops were trained to win; he feels he will not be able to live with himself and fears the jeers of his comrades and the derision of the people at home.

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